Shaken and stirred by Sarasota, Florida’s mid-century modern architectural gems

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Sarasota High School
The Paul Rudolph-designed Sarasota High School
Shaken and stirred by Sarasota, Florida’s mid-century modern architectural gems
Sarasota High School

Architecture should speak of its time and place, a famous practitioner once noted. The house I’m in does just that — and I’m pretty sure it asked how I’d like my martini.

I’m standing downstairs in the airy main room of the Umbrella House, one of hundreds of homes and other structures in and around Sarasota that helped define America’s iconic mid-century modern style. Or, as I’ve explained to friends from out of state, “Mad Men” with white-sand beaches.

Architecture lovers from around the globe have long regarded this Gulf Coast town as a shrine. But recently this mecca of the Sarasota School of Architecture movement has begun finding fresh fans among us more casual admirers of cool.

To be fair, I’ve enjoyed frequent, if haphazard drive-by viewings of Sarasota School homes over the more than two decades I’ve been coming to Sarasota, after moving from Washington, D.C., to Tampa with my then-girlfriend, now-wife.

But today is the first time I’ve been inside any of these famous houses. The Umbrella House, like most of these original homes, is privately owned. Janet Minker, chair of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation, has literally opened the doors of this home to me, offering a sneak peek of the organization’s second annual celebration of the Sarasota School, which is slated for the following weekend.

The Umbrella House is one of a handful of private homes and other buildings in this style open to the public during this event, called SarasotaMod. As if reading my mind, she says festivities will include cocktail parties. These houses “make you want a martini and a cigarette,” she says with a laugh. […]

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